Newly Diagnosed with Breast Cancer
A breast cancer diagnosis can leave you feeling overwhelmed, with a lot of questions. Our goal is to help you address some of these questions head-on so that you can go into your first oncology appointment fully prepared. We hope this guide will make your path to breast cancer treatment a bit smoother.
During your first oncology appointment, you’ll be given a lot of information that may be hard to remember. To ensure you don’t miss anything, we suggest having a notebook to record important information. This notebook can be a place to include notes on how you’re feeling, and the schedule of any medicines or supplements you’re taking. It is also a good place to jot down any questions, thoughts, or observations you think of between appointments with your cancer care team. When possible, add a date to your entry, so all of your thoughts and notes are organized.
If you prefer a more modern method, consider taking notes on your smartphone or even recording audio clips. Whatever method suits you best is fine— pick one method and commit to using it regularly. Having well-documented information is one of the best ways to maintain open communication between you, your doctors, and your caretakers.
Some things to keep in mind when asking about your breast cancer could include:
- Should I change any current lifestyle choices (diet, exercise, rest, stress level)?
- Do I have any genetic mutations that could affect other family members?
- What can I expect at my future appointments?
- Has my cancer affected any lymph nodes?
- What types of professionals will be on my cancer care team?
- Are there any activities to avoid? Are there any that I should add to my routine?
- Are there any supplements I can or can’t take to boost my nutrition level?
- What are my breast cancer treatment options, goals, and
- What are the side effects of my breast cancer treatment options?
- Are clinical trials an option? Would I be a good candidate?
- How quickly do I have to decide on treatment?
- Will I have access to supportive care?
Frequently, patients find it helpful to bring a family member or friend to appointments to ask questions and take notes. Having an extra set of ears may help you recall details later on.
What Kind of Doctor Should I See?
After a cancer diagnosis, you will transition to seeing an oncologist. Oncology is the study of cancer. An oncologist is a medically trained doctor who leads the care for patients after a cancer diagnosis. As a patient of Willamette Valley Cancer Institute and Research Center, you will have access to oncologists at one convenient location.
Once your oncologist has learned more about your specific diagnosis, he/she will consult with you and the rest of your care team to develop a personalized treatment plan. Your care team will include several specialists, that typically include:
- Medical oncologist
- Breast cancer surgeon
- Radiation oncologist
- Plastic surgeon, if needed
Surgery may seem like a logical first step; however, some patients can benefit from a different approach. Visiting with a medical oncologist first will help determine the best treatment for your specific diagnosis.
What Type of Breast Cancer do I Have?
Breast cancer can begin in different areas of the breast, including the ducts, the lobules, and sometimes the tissue in between. In some cases, certain genes, and the proteins they make, play a role in how breast cancer behaves and how it might respond to treatment. One such gene is the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, also called HER2/neu or ErbB2. Your oncology team will determine your breast cancer type and the type of treatment you may receive based on your HER2 status and hormone receptors.
Approximately 70% of breast cancers are hormone receptor-positive. The percentage is even higher among older women. Your oncologist will perform the tests and then explain how the results may affect your treatment plan. If you have any questions or concerns, be sure to speak with your doctor.
Learn more about breast cancer treatment options.
What is the Extent of My Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer stages are typically expressed as a number on a scale of 0 through IV, with stage 0 representing contained, non-invasive cancers and stage IV representing cancers that have spread. The results of the biopsy and images taken will allow your oncologist to determine the extent of your breast cancer. Read more about breast cancer staging.
Which Breast Cancer Treatments Will I Receive?
Breast cancer patients have access to several different types of treatment— all of which your cancer care team will discuss. Factors such as the type, stage of your breast cancer, and age will influence the kind of treatment you may receive. Breast cancer treatment options include:
- Radiation therapy
- Hormone therapy
- Targeted therapy
Your WVCI team will evaluate your personal situation and recommend the most effective treatment options.
What About Breast Cancer Clinical Trials?
As a member of US Oncology Research, WVCI can access the latest clinical trials in several convenient locations. These breast cancer clinical trials help uncover various new treatment options, including new breast cancer treatments and allow many patients to receive newly developed therapies or investigational drugs not yet available outside the study.
If you feel as though a clinical trial is something you’d be interested in, talk with your oncologist to determine if you would make a good candidate.
Your First Oncology Appointment
While every cancer journey is different, support is something that can be beneficial to any patient. We highly recommend that you take a relative or friend with you to your first appointment. Not only will they be there to provide emotional support, but they can also listen and help take notes on all the information you will be discussing.
Learn more about your first visit with a WVCI breast cancer specialist.
After Breast Cancer Treatment
Once you have completed breast cancer treatment, your oncologist will want to monitor you closely. Therefore, it is crucial to go to all of your follow-up appointments. During these visits, your doctor will address your questions and concerns, ask about side effects related to treatment, and discuss other follow-up treatments that may be necessary, such as hormone therapy or reconstructive surgery. Remember to bring your notebook (or other documentation methods) and a support partner to as many visits as possible.
Should I Get a Cancer Diagnosis Second Opinion?
It’s important that you are confident about your breast cancer diagnosis. Many patients choose to get a second opinion before beginning any specific breast cancer treatment plans. At Willamette Valley Cancer Institute and Research Center, our physicians provide second opinions on breast cancer diagnosis and treatment options. Many insurance companies will cover a second opinion assessment. However, you should contact your insurance provider for verification of coverage for second opinion appointments.
You are Not Alone in Your Breast Cancer Journey
The physicians and staff at WVCI are here to support you every step of the way, providing our patients with everything they need to feel both informed and empowered during this time. Various national resources may help you too. Visit our Patient Resources page for more breast cancer resources.